While California is undoubtedly blessed with abundant sunshine and surf, it has also become the forefront for sustainable, farm-to-table dining. While there are several “green” restaurant associations, Positive Plate has taken green dining to new levels, offering a comprehensive sustainability program and model for our culinary future.
Founded by Jesse Baker of Ecofficiency.org, the program is administered by southern California food and sustainability experts, offering a unique and dynamic approach to restaurant verification. In order for a restaurant to participate, it must meet all five categories: Product Sourcing, Energy and Water Efficiency, Recycling and Waste Reduction, Employee Training and Development, and Community Engagement.
“Restaurants have to do something in each category – it’s a great model for how businesses can begin to approach sustainability,” said Baker. “While sustainability is a tricky concept, we are hoping to highlight an ethical component that we felt was lacking in the current movement.”
These categories, transferrable to any industry, offer a more accurate and complete evaluation for sustainability than other green certifications. Unlike the Green Restaurant Association, which uses a more quantitative approach to ratings, Positive Plate offers a qualitative approach, allowing each category to speak for itself.
“Certification programs are designed to make money. To us, what’s more valuable is establishing a community-based movement, helping restaurants change their philosophies,” said Baker. “The success comes from people implementing the ideals and running with it. It’s your program.”
When evaluating each restaurant, Baker will do a physical walk-through, establishing a relationship with the owners and management. Positive Plate works with each restaurant to not only evaluate their operational practices, but to also identify opportunities for improvement. Through the evaluation process, Positive Plate will also look at the restaurants’ engagement with the community itself, whether through donating to a local non-profit organization or sponsoring local events.
“Consumers are demanding more, they are becoming educated about these issues,” said Baker. “It’s a positive and fantastic sign. As more restaurants buy in, they are going to help increase the consumer demand for greener products.”
As part of this demand, Positive Plate Orange Country has assisted with a new program, Cooking Up Change, a nationwide healthy schools campaign. Working with students at Valley High School in Santa Ana, the school has not only installed its own garden but also an aquaponics system and culinary kitchen. Student participants learn how to make healthy lunches for their school, which for many years had little access to fresh fruits or vegetables. This year, the school won the national healthy cooking competition in D.C.
“It feels really good to go out into the community and give them support,” said Baker. “We don’t want Positive Plate to just be a “foodie” scene – to me, it becomes useful when we take it to the community, especially communities that don’t normally have access to it.”
In this past year, Positive Plate also sponsored “A Taste of Summer” – San Diego’s premier food event, celebrating the launch of their San Diego chapter. The unique tasting menu was all made using local, organic, and seasonal ingredients. Working with restaurants, food trucks, caterers, and more, the Positive Plate has successful inspired a widespread movement towards sustainable food production. With over 15 participating restaurants on board in both Orange County and San Diego, they have high hopes of expanding soon.
“We don’t believe in green washing. We believe in creating a business model with integrity,” said Baker. But ultimately, the onus falls on the consumer. You have a choice of who to support.”
And as a responsible consumer, their website is a great venue for ecoliteracy – from restaurant profiles, farmers markets listings, sustainable shopping tips, upcoming events, and their own dining club membership. Click here for details on how you can support a more sustainable dining culture.
-Story by Rachel Hommel, LoaTree Food Writer and Researcher; Photos courtesy of Positive Plate